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London trip report - how I had a great time and did not spend a fortune

London trip report - how I had a great time and did not spend a fortune

Old Mar 29th, 2005, 01:41 PM
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London trip report - how I had a great time and did not spend a fortune

I just returned from a wonderful 10 days in (mostly) sunny London. Temperatures were in the mid to upper 60s most days which is ten or so degrees above average for this time of year. Grass was green and daffodils and forsythia, etc were everywhere.

Since so many people here express concern about being able to afford London I want to share my experience. Donít get me wrong, London is a VERY expensive city, much more so than say Paris. But it is a wonderful city and it is quite possible to enjoy yourself there and not have it cost a fortune.

First the hotel - Craven Gardens Hotel, 16 Leinster Terrace. Finding an inexpensive hotel in central London is definitely not easy but this one qualifies as a "find" as far as Iím concerned. £39 per night for a single in a clean, well located hotel is probably about as good as itís going to get. The location is in Bayswater, half a block from Hyde Park on a quiet street (no street noise at all and I had the window open every night). Mostly hotels and flats with a few small businesses and a couple of restaurants and pubs. There was a bus stop on the corner (two minute walk) and two tube stations about a quarter mile away. Itís just a few steps from the Thistle Lancaster Gate - Thistle Hyde Park Hotels but less than half the price. The hotel is small, four floors of rooms, with about 6 rooms per floor, so very little noise from people coming and going. There is a lift. On the ground floor is the reception and a dining area where breakfast is served (and at night itís a bar serving drinks). The public areas are newly wallpapered and bright. The room was very small, just a bed (a double, despite it being a "single" room) and a nightstand. No other furniture or art, etc. But there was an alcove for suitcase with 3 shelves and space to hang clothes. The bathroom was brand new, nicely tiled and fairly large for a European hotel bathroom. There was coffee and tea making supplies in the room and cable TV. Internet access available in the lobby for a small fee. Breakfast included eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, coffee, tea, juice, hardboiled eggs, sliced ham and cheese. All you can eat. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time in the room or require luxury surroundings this is a great place to stay.

Eating - My new favorite restaurant in London is Wagamama, a chain of Japanese restaurants featuring noodle based dishes although they have other things as well. Prices start at £5.5 and most are under £10. There is wait service and you can get drinks. There are several all over London and I had dinner at them 3 or 4 times. For lunches I always had sandwiches or salads from places like Marks and Spencer food court (but the grocery stores Sainsbury and Tesco are almost as good) or one of the chains of sandwich shops like Pret-A-Manger. You canít go two blocks in London without passing someplace that sells great sandwiches. Prices are about £1-£4 . Including a drink I never spent more than £5 for lunch. I usually ate lunch on a bench somewhere because the weather was nice and I prefer that, but many of the sandwich shops (like Pret) have tables (both inside and out). My weakness is coffee and while there is a Starbucks every half block the prices are high. Mostly the same as in the US only in pounds Ė so about twice what youíd pay here. There is a chain called Benjy's which has filter coffee (what they call regular brewed coffee, not espresso) for 75 pence for a large. Theyíre not as prevalent as Starbucks but they are around if you look for them. Great almond croissants too. And by the way, Starbucks is a great place to use the toilets, even if you arenít buying something they never seemed to notice or care. I figured with the total amount I did spend at Starbucks on this trip I felt OK about using the loo when I was passing one.

Transportation - a 7 day travelcard that enables you to use the tube and buses unlimited is the way to go. Current cost is £18.50 but in the week I had one I took 40 tube or bus rides so that comes out to 50 pence ($1) a ride Ė better than you can do in NYC or Boston. And I found buses to be almost as fast and much more pleasant than the tube. Take a few minutes to learn the routes - they are posted at all stops. Itís really quite extensive. And riding in the top of a double decker bus is one the most fun things you can do in London. And Iíll repeat what is often said here Ė the tube from Heathrow is as fast as any other way and only costs £3.8 and is perfectly comfortable. I only had my 21 inch rolling carry-on, but there were plenty of people with much larger suitcases who did fine. The Picadilly line has spaces for luggage. Both in and outbound trips took 45 minutes.

On this trip I didnít spend anything on admissions in London. I had already done the two things I think are the definite "must-sees" - the Tower and Westminster Abbey, which do cost quite a bit. But I did do The British Museum, the V&A, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Naval College and Maritime Museum in Greenwich Ė all of which are free. The parks are all free (and full of beautiful flowers and fountains at this time of year). I did several "walksĒ" - most of which I got from books like "London Walks" or guidebooks, some I found on the internet. So this was also free. And London "experiences" like Porobello Road or Camden Market are also free (well, except for whatever you buy, but hunting for a bargain is the fun of it). I did do several day trips: Oxford, Canterbury and Windsor and there were admission prices in all of them, plus the cost of the trains. If you do go into places with admission prices in England they do tend to be steep Ė Windsor castle was £12.50, but then Canterbury Cathedral was only £4.5 so I guess it evens out.

I had a great time, took a million photos, and wish I were still there.
isabel is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2005, 01:51 PM
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Did you make any voluntary contributions to the free museums?
jsmith is offline  
Old Mar 29th, 2005, 02:56 PM
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Welcome back Isabel. Thank you for a good trip report. Plus you had good weather. I, too wish I were in London right now. Later this year. Every visit I always find new areas to spend time in. Can't wait to get back there!
rj007 is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 08:32 AM
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Great report - and shows it can be done reasonably. Very encouraging for these late-summer London-bound travelers. Thanks!
tuckerdc is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 08:35 AM
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Forgot to ask - do you have a URL for the CG B&B?
tuckerdc is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 10:01 AM
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Excellent trip report Isabel !
Full of very useful information.

If you are the same Isabel who has shared with us her fantastic photo web site, your London pictures will surely be something to look forward to.
Mathieu is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 11:52 AM
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Good report. I'm sure some tourists won't get excited about sandwiches in the park and a basic room, but real travellers know how unimportant those things are. In my opinion, you have your priorities right.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 01:18 PM
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Ah, a traveler after mine own frugal heart -

If you have multiple mouths to feed (5 in my case), a £ or two here and there adds up fast. The best deals in lunch are the sandwich coolers at places like Marks & Spencer, Iceland Grocery, and even Boots the Chemist. They all offer several sandwich/crisps/drink deals, most of them around £3 (if you don't go for the prawn salad!)

Thank you for a nice report on a lovely trip.
Robespierre is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 01:22 PM
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clever planning...well done.

thank you for showing the negatives that value for money can be had in london - US$75 for a livable room centrally located in any major western is not easy to find.

starbucks is, indeed, an indulgence here in the UK. unlike in the US, starbucks is not an everyday habit for the british (except maybe for the young and hip with money to burn). other than that, it's for expats, addicted tourists and those willing to pay more to try starbucks for the first time (most in the UK and certainly europe still do not have a neighbourhood starbucks). if brand is not important, you are much better off at one of the local chains that are starbucks replicas but without the cache that starbucks still enjoys in the UK. or better yet, drink tea.
walkinaround is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 02:56 PM
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Outstanding trip report! Sounds like your careful planning paid off with an affordable trip that still had some wonderful sightseeing activities. Thanks for the reminder that we really can do well if we don't fall into the easy pattern of restaurants at every meal. Your report makes me eager to return to London, but we're going to head to Turkey later in the fall. Maybe London and Paris next year(Do we ever get enough of either?)
Barb_in_Ga is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 03:29 PM
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Isabel, thank you for this fantastic trip report! It has made me even more excited about my own week-long trip there this May. Thanks for all the great restaurant tips. I would love nothing more than to grab a sandwich and sit and eat in a park somewhere for lunch! I am looking forward to checking out Wagamama.

By the way, did your travelcard only cover Zone 1 or Zone 1 and 2? I have looked online but this is the one part I'm finding confusing (and I used to live there, go figure). I've heard that you can get a better deal as a tourist if you order a card by mail; is that true?
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:33 PM
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Get a Travelcard for Zones 1 & 2 for £20.40 at ticket-on-line.com and you'll be set for everything out to Greenwich. It costs £1 more in London.

A 7-day Bus Pass (£11) includes all of Greater London, and will even get you to Heathrow. Bus travel is almost as fast as using the Tube because you don't spend any time going down and up or walking through what seems like miles to make a connection.
Robespierre is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:08 PM
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It appears that they are changing the terms of the Visitor Travelcard.This from the Transport for London website,

"PLEASE NOTE: Due to the imminent launch of exciting new Travelcard options for visitors to London, you can currently only purchase Visitor Travelcards with a start date on or before 10 April 2005. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause."


Lovejoy is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:33 PM
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Hi isabel, I so enjoyed reading your report about your visit in London.

Although I have not visited London I just want to say that travelling can be less expensive if one thinks as you do. I tend to believe that sometimes the less one spends the better time one has. Travelling cost money of course but just spending money for the sake of spending it does not guarantee a wonderful trip. You proved that.
LoveItaly is offline  
Old Mar 30th, 2005, 07:06 PM
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Well, this is a great report! Count me among those who'd like to see more and spend less. Thanks for the information isabel.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 10:14 AM
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Hi. Glad this report is useful. I really did have a wonderful time and really doubt it would have been significantly more wonderful if I had spent more. I can't tell you how many people who have made comments to me this week, when I say I just got back from London, like "gee I wish I could afford to do that". Well, they can, if they would just have an open mind about it.

Anyway, yes I do have the web site for the Craven Gardens but it's at home, and unfortunately I'm at work. I'll post it tonight.

sunny - My travel card was just zone 1 for the tube but it covered more zones for the bus. I went to Greenwich and Camden which were in zone 2, and in both cases I couldn't find anyone to buy an extension from at the tube stop I was departing from, but it worked out ok. In both cases I took the bus back. I don't think you save much by buying it ahead of time and it's pretty simple to just get it when you get there.

I'm working on my photos and will post the link when I get them done, but it will be a while, since I have to keep interrupting working on them to come to work.

isabel is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2005, 11:25 AM
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>Did you make any voluntary >contributions to the free museums?

jsmith, some of the museums are free for a reason:

in the british museum there next to nothing british! its 95% loot from greece and egypt.

by being free britain can claim there is no impediment for the greeks to enjoy the eglin marbles,as long as they come to london!
got1tiel is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2005, 12:43 PM
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isabel, you have made me "homesick" for London
How great that the weather was so warm! There is nothing like Hyde Park with all the spring flowers in bloom. We rent a flat when in London and take picnics and bring home take-away, so I agree that you can eat well and enjoy London on some sort of budget.
I have been wishing to visit the Tate lately- I am missing my Turners
Tell us more..please, thanks! Scarlett
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 04:35 AM
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The other thread I just read this morning about Charles and his sons talk of "stag night" reminded me of another "free" thing I did in London - stayed in my room some nights and watched British telly. Now I know this isn't in the same league as going to the theatre, but a few nights it was pretty entertaining to stay in and watch that famous British humor. And I'm not one who usually appreciates British humor, at least not the stuff which gets imported to the US. My husband is always watching it and I don't seem to get it. But some of the stuff I saw while in London was hilarious. I almost rolled off the bed laughing a few times.

Here's the website for the Craven Gardens Hotel:

My daughter, who is still in Lodnon, says it's cold and rainy this week, so I guess I really got lucky with the weather. I still wish I were there, even if it is cold.
isabel is offline  
Old Apr 1st, 2005, 04:53 AM
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Great report, Isabel. It's true that you don't need to spend lavishly to enjoy a vacation. Interestingly, lots of people I know have luxury requirements for vacations (expensive hotels, high end restaurants, taxis everywhere) when their "regular" lives are pretty ordinary. They live on vacation in a much different manner than they do at home, which is fine if they are on vacation to enjoy pampering and luxury. However, their "look," and by that I guess I mean their clothing, accessories, luggage and so on, is very middle-class and looks out of place in Europe in these higher-end venues. Perhaps that is what makes some people stand out as tourists, or uniquely American tourists, in Europe? (And to stem the inevitable debate, I don't try to blend, or hide the fact that I am an American tourist, or think there's anything wrong with being or looking like a tourist! When we travel we have a 3' diameter force field around us that screams it, even when we are wearing clothing purchased abroad. This is just an observation.

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